The quality of your communication is the quality of your life. — Anthony Robbins
Communication is one of the greatest gifts to humanity. Through communication, we are able to share ideas, learn information, and express our deepest thoughts and emotions. It is also a real challenge! If you have ever argued with a loved one, shut down during a disagreement, or stayed silent out of fear, you know how difficult it can be to stay in that space with another person and truly communicate.
Here’s a great definition of communication from Business Dictionary: “Two-way process of reaching mutual understanding.” To stay present in our communications with others, we need both of these in place: allowing the back-and-forth flow…and reaching mutual understanding. Notice that mutual understanding does not have to mean that everyone agrees! It means we understand both our point of view and that of the other person as well.
One thing that sabotages our ability to truly listen and be heard is our own frame of mind. Before we ever enter a conversation, we may be feeling intense emotions such as anger; we may have the intention to change someone’s mind; or we may not be really “there” but already planning our vacation in our minds. Anything that keeps us from being in a shared present moment will hinder our ability to participate in that two-way process of flow.
Staying present when we are in a conversation is more complex when it involves another person. We must tune in to not only what is going on within us, but within the other person as well. So how do we get to that place where we are truly in that shared space?
The answer is to first check in with yourself.
Here are some ways to tune in and see if you are really present in a conversation. You may check in at the beginning of your conversation, or even beforehand if it is an important one.
- Notice what is happening in your body. Are you tense? relaxed? rigid and ready to fight?fidgety? Your body will give you signals that indicate if you are present to what is happening inside you when communicating. If you notice yourself feeling tension of any kind, take a slow breath and allow your body to relax. This helps bring you back to the shared space with the other person; it opens you up to better listening and being able to express yourself more effectively.
- Notice what is happening in your emotions. Are you joyful? angry? anxious? Intense emotions indicate that either something in your own circumstance or something the other person said has affected you deeply. When you experience an intense emotion in a conversation, your mind pays more attention to the emotion than to the other person. Have you ever heard someone say something that made you angry and you shut down your listening and started an inner dialog about your anger? That takes you out of the present moment and into your head. Check in with your emotions to see what is happening. Again, take a breath to bring you back to the present.
- Notice your mental agenda. Are you really listening to the other person, or are you holding on to a point and just waiting to jump in and make your point? Are you listening in a thoughtful way to what the other person is saying? When you make a conversation “all about you,” it takes you away from the present because your present moment is shared with other person! Noticing your mental approach and adjusting when needed brings you back.
- Check in to your words. Notice the words you are using. Are they clear? Are you saying what you mean to say? Are you mumbling or speaking rapidly? The tone and pace of your words gives you yet more clues to whether or not you are present. Often, the words you choose and how you say them point to an underlying emotion — especially if you are speaking loudly or extremely softly. Check in, notice, and adjust if needed.
Being truly present with another person in a conversation takes practice, but it has the ability to deepen relationships and create new understandings.